NORTHERN Isles MSPs Tavish Scott and Liam McArthur’ role in securing fair ferry funding for Orkney and Shetland’s inter-island ferries has been described as “pretty irrelevant” by SNP Highlands and Islands MSP Maree Todd.
But McArthur hit back saying it was him and Scott, rather than Todd herself, who secured a parliamentary debate on the issue in December last year which led to the rural economy committee calling on the government to include ferry funding in the 2018/19 budget.
In an interview with Shetland News this week SNP list MSP Todd commended both island councils for the way they conducted the negotiations that secured an additional £10.5 million for inter-island ferry services in the Northern Isles.
Orkney Islands Council is to receive an extra £5.5 million for 2018/19 while Shetland Islands Council has been allocated an additional £5 million – £2.5 million less than what the local authority had been lobbying for.
Todd, who is also the newly appointed Scottish minister for childcare and early years, said these sums were not suddenly pulled out of a hat and had undergone intense scrutiny on the basis of what was actually needed.
There was general agreement within the government that fair ferry funding was an issue that needed to be fixed, she said, but the question was “what sum of money was needed – that was negotiated directly between the government and the councils”.
“It was an SNP budget, an SNP amendment and all the local MSPs engaged positively in respect of the budget process,” she said.
The SNP minority government’s budget was passed with the help of the Scottish Greens’ six votes on 31 January.
Northern Isles MSPs Tavish Scott and Liam MacArthur decided to also vote in favour of the budget after having been informed by Scottish finance secretary Derek Mackay two days before the vote that fair ferry funding had been agreed with council leaders (see letter here).
The rest of the Liberal Democrats group in parliament voted against the budget.
“The role of the Liberal Democrats in all this was pretty irrelevant,” Todd said.
“Their votes weren’t necessary to pass the budget, however I can see that it would have been very difficult for them [Scott and McArthur] to vote against it.
“They didn’t influence the government in any way. Of course they asked like anybody else was asking, but they were unable to even convince their own party.
“We knew that the Lib Dems would not support the budget and a deal was struck between the SNP and the Greens to deliver a budget that delivered fair ferry funding.”
McArthur described Todd’s comments as “nonsense from the Scottish Government’s cheerleader in chief in the Highlands & Islands.”
He said: “It is perhaps worth noting that not once since being elected as an MSP to her appointment as a minister did Maree Todd ever raise the issue of ferry funding (or fleet replacement) in the chamber or through parliamentary questions.
“Once she was bound by collective ministerial responsibility, rather than offer to take the case directly to her finance secretary colleague along the corridor, she insisted that it was for Tavish and I to make the argument. This we did.”
Scott added: “Liam and I will continue a professional and productive relationship on behalf of the islands with both Derek Mackay and Humza Yousaf [the Scottish transport and islands minister].
“The contrast with the behaviour of Maree Todd could not be greater.”